I confess it’s all true. I’m sitting atop chestfuls of motorists’ cash here in the Town Hall while looking at banks of screens which enable me to direct crack squads of parking wardens to pounce on unwary drivers who have fallen foul of our draconian parking laws.
Okay, it’s a false confession, but one that many people would find easy to believe given the way councils are portrayed when the thorny issue of parking revenues are reported. Evening Standard 23 Dec 2013 London councils accused of ripping off drivers with £502m parking revenues
And while there’s no getting away from the fact that as a borough we receive the second highest amount of parking revenue, there are sound and sensible reasons why this is the case. Our shops, restaurants and museums are nationally (and in some cases internationally) famous and draw large volumes of traffic to the borough. More traffic equals more parking equals more revenue.
Despite what many people may think, we don’t set the penalties and its worth knowing that we only ever end up ticketing a small fraction of the overall number of parking offences committed in the borough.
If we start from first principles then I think most people would agree that a laissez-faire approach to parking would lead to chaos in no time at all. We are a small, densely populated borough in the centre of a world city. Many of our roads are narrow. To keep traffic flowing and to allow residents and visitors to park in the bays designated for them we must make sure that the rules are followed. Parking on yellow lines would quickly stop the buses and gum up the streets to nobody’s benefit. Guardian 18 Aug 2004 Chaos in town with no traffic wardens
But we also need to make sure that those people who are not residents but want to come here to shop, visit friends or enjoy our parks and cultural attractions have somewhere to park. Once they are parked however it’s just as important to make sure they move on when their time in a pay and display is over. That, in turn, will allow businesses to have more customers as, believe me, there is always someone else waiting to take their place. Parking spaces are in great demand here in Kensington and Chelsea.
Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Recently we removed a resident’s car that was parked in a bay that had been suspended while he was away. He complained. He is a journalist. No surprise, the story featured on his radio show. But if the boot had been on the other foot how would he have felt? If it had been him who had requested that the bay was suspended to allow building work to take place on his house, only to find that his carefully planned, costly work could not go ahead because the Council had turned a blind eye to the suspension it had approved. I think I might have got a letter!
So what do we do with the money we collect from parking? Well, we can’t just do whatever we like with it. Under current legislation the application of any surplus is limited to meeting the cost of providing and maintaining parking facilities, highways improvement schemes, highway maintenance, public passenger transport services and certain other categories of expenditure. To put some of this in more understandable terms we use the money to maintain and improve the roads people walk, drive and cycle on. It is also used to fund the important Freedom Pass that allows our older residents to use London’s public transport system, which at over £9m is not cheap.
Barbs from predictable sources likening us to highwaymen may provide a quick way to a satisfying headline, but, even so, reasonable residents expect their Council to keep the traffic moving, they expect to be able to park near their homes, they want to see unsafe and selfish parking penalised and a steady flow of visitors to the borough’s businesses and institutions and maintained. That is what a reasonable enforcement regime seeks to deliver.